Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?
“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, . . . it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” The opening words of Charles Dickens’ literary masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities skillfully contrast how events can affect our thinking, our feelings, and our outlook.
The two cities referred to were London and Paris during the turmoil of the French Revolution. For the oppressed citizens of 18th-century France, the revolution’s proclamation of the rights of man was indeed a “spring of hope.” But for those of the ancien régime, or the outgoing political system, it was a “winter of despair,” leading to death and destruction.
Optimism or pessimism? It all depended on which side you were on. And it still does.
Time for Self-Scrutiny
Are you an optimist? Do you see the bright side of life, always anticipating the best? Or are you inclined to be pessimistic, taking a negative view of your prospects, hoping for the best but at the same time expecting the worst?
Sixty years ago American novelist James Branch Cabell summed up the two conflicting philosophies this way: “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” If you feel that this view is rather cynical, examine the pros and cons of just three aspects of today’s world as presented below. Then analyze your reactions, and ask yourself, ‘Am I an optimist or a pessimist?’
Lasting Peace: How many world trouble spots can you name? Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Burundi, Rwanda—these readily come to mind. Can these and other struggles ever be resolved to ensure permanent, global peace? Is the world headed for peace?
Economic Stability: Hoping for monetary union by 1999, European Union countries are seriously confronting problems with inflation and public borrowing. Elsewhere, corruption erodes the economic structure of many American and African nations, where inflation imposes an almost impossible burden and ethnic problems still divide. Is world economic stability just ahead?
Unemployment: In the 1997 national election, British churches united to urge all political parties to put full employment high on their agendas. But with nearly 30 percent of the world’s work force out of work or underemployed, can there be lasting, full employment—especially for the young?
How easy it is to feel pessimistic! Yet there is a bright side, and we invite you to consider how it is possible to develop an optimistic outlook.
[Picture on page 3]
The French Revolution
From the book Pictorial History of the World